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First Principles: How to Succeed Where Other Modernizations Fail

Modernizing legacy systems is complex and risky, but you can avoid common pitfalls and enable success by following our first principles of modernization. These principles are the core of Excella’s modernization approach, and we apply them to address our clients’ modernization challenges. Start with a Small Win: Achieving an initial win demonstrates success, builds buy-in, […]

By ,

July 29, 2019

Modernizing legacy systems is complex and risky, but you can avoid common pitfalls and enable success by following our first principles of modernization. These principles are the core of Excella’s modernization approach, and we apply them to address our clients’ modernization challenges.

Start with a Small Win:

Achieving an initial win demonstrates success, builds buy-in, and exposes potential future challenges. Focus on regularly delivering small improvements throughout the modernization effort instead of everything at the end. One large release delivered at the end of the project always fails because risks are put off until they’re practically insurmountable. This increases anxiety and is susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy.[1] Releasing small improvements on a regular basis mitigates risk by forcing teams to tackle challenging aspects of the modernization up front to deliver working software, increasing chances of success. 

Deliver Value First:

A successful modernization effort delivers the most valuable functionality first, rather than all the features at the same time. As your business evolves, you continuously expand your understanding of the product value. Once you identify the key components of your modernization effort, focus on delivering them to the customer first. As the modernization progresses, you will identify a point of diminishing returns; according to a research from the Standish institute, 50% of features in enterprise applications are hardly ever or never used.[2] You can stop when you hit that point, confident you have delivered the most value.

Create Feedback Loops:

Emphasize learning throughout the modernization. Create feedback loops with your customers, your stakeholders, and your teams to identify new, emerging knowledge and respond to it. The best way to do this is by delivering working product, early and often. Set up focus groups, testing, and user interviews. This will create opportunities for improvement and help you refine your ideas. You can be confident your modernization is on the right track when feedback is integrated into the process.  

Embrace Change:

Your organization is unique; your modernization should be, too. Duplicating the legacy system in the modern system doesn’t lead to success. Your business needs and your customers’ needs change over time, and they will continue to evolve as you modernize. Aim to deliver a modernized system aligned to these new needs, not the needs targeted by the old system. This liberates your system from past constraints and empowers innovative ideas. Doing this successfully requires deeply understanding your business, its domain, and its customers.

Deliver Continuously:

With a big bang modernization, you only deliver once. In a continuous delivery environment, changes flow regularly to production after passing through a series of automated tests. This improves product quality. Customers will enjoy a responsive development process; defects can be addressed and deployed in hours or minutes, rather than days or weeks – building trust. This helps your organization evolve to experimental learning, testing new features and functions on well-structured subsets of users before rolling them out to everyone. In time, you’ll deliver faster than your users expect.

Create Operational Visibility:

Healthy production systems require strong metrics which create operational visibility. Create a layered system that monitors all aspects of the system, logs relevant details, alerts when necessary, and helps to correlate all this information into an accessible format. Identify leading indicators of trouble, measure them, and design systems to respond proactively, either with automated routines or well-defined manual processes. We employ the helpdesk ‘Hollywood’ principle – don’t tell us there’s a problem, we’ll tell you there’s a problem, and ideally, we’ll have already fixed it.

Conclusion

Modernization efforts can be challenging, but we’ve seen success from abiding by these principles. They help organizations embrace change and create the necessary visibility to modernize effectively. If you commit to these principles, you will avoid many of the common problems that cause modernizations to fail. Reach out to us to learn more about how we use these principles.

 

 

[1] https://www.braintrustgroup.com/2012/how-sunk-costs-can-be-minimized-with-agile/

[2] https://www.standishgroup.com/sample_research_files/Modernization.pdf, 2010

 

 

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